JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post #53
Sometimes order brings disorder; and disorder, order, as in the following two examples of early versions of modern technology. Take the typewriter—it has a curious display of the alphabet, designed to impede, while numbers are displayed along the tip, in order. (The qwerty system may well have been put into place as the earliest typewriters, beginning even with Glidden and Sholes machine, could not absorb very fast typing due to their technical limitations, and so came the qwerty arrangement.) So from this non-random arrangement we are able to direct all of our thoughts and intentions.
(An interesting aside is this magnificent non-qwerty machine, found in F. von Knauss' Selbstschreibende Wundermaschinen... (1780), a magnificent work on "wonder machines", and which is recognized as the first "typewriter".)
The other elegant machine is the cipher. In the beginning of its use the alphabet is usually properly arranged, and placement of letters and numerals is very clear and precise. The result however is anything but—the product being a beautiful randomness and a secure, secret language.
This illustration features a lovely volvelle (two or more pieces of paper arranged so that they may be turned one on top of the other) from Giambattista Della Porta’s De furitvis literarum notis vulgo…, printed in Naples in 1591. The volvelle was one part of the book which explained the art of steganogrpahy—the art of writing incomprehensibly except to those who possess the key—and was one of the most important works on the subject after the Polygraphia of Johannes Trithemius (This book was written in 1599, published in 1606 and condemned in 1609—ostensibly because the book was thought to be about the dark arts and black magic, though the offending volume, the third and last, was really a deeper work continuing on cryptography.)
This is another interesting paper volvelle device, called a rotularum, and can be found in P. Gasparis Schotti's Schola Steganographia, and printed in 1680.
Closer yet to the order/disorder idea is the strip cipher, which begins the process of encoding with numerous aligned alphabets which are then put out-of-order to secure a deeper discontinuity between the original message and its encoded version.
A modern and imaginative version of a typewriter version of a cipher may be seen in Claes Oldenburg's 1963 "Soft typewriter"--well, not really, but this may be the only time that I have a chance to use this illustration.